Food for Thought: Reflections on a Symposium with Robin Shohet

Author : Laure Polidori

robin shohet symposium blog

16th November 2018

Sometimes it takes just one key question to be asked, to find an answer that was never before apparent to you.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it. It was my first Symposium event and I had no idea how it was going to be. In my mind, we would be sat at a table, predominantly listening to the speaker and pitching in on the conversations as and when he had finished talking. In reality, I found myself sat at a round table, which we moved around often, enabling us all to get to know one another and get as involved as possible in all of the fascinating discussions that were taking place around Robin Shohet’s talk.

It is worth taking a moment to talk about Robin as the evening’s guest speaker. He has been supervising for over forty years and it really does show. His energy and the way that he spoke, and guided the conversation was enthralling. He made people feel at ease with different things that came up during the dinner, and when he shared or picked up on something, based on what I saw and heard from those around me I would say he was very accurate. He seemed very much in tune with us.

The topic of the evening was “Fear, Love and Vulnerability”, and after spending some time meeting one another, we began to explore each of these aspects, transitioning effortlessly between them as we went. Robin led the conversation, and one aspect that I thought was particularly well-executed was the way that he left us with a thought-provoking question or statement as each plate arrived. This sparked conversation brilliantly and I quite literally saw the table come alive with captivating chatter again and again, as we enjoyed each course.

The first plates came in and I found myself talking with my neighbours about the different types of fear that were coming up for us or our clients. I shared with them my thoughts around two similar extreme experiences, such as skydiving and bungee jumping. Whilst they are both adrenaline fuelled and high-intensity activities the extent of fear differs with each. How? Well from my experience, when jumping from a plane, you are jumping with someone, therefore you are not necessarily the one taking the step. The instructor will say okay we are going to jump now. However, with bungee jumping even though it’s from a much lower height, it is you that is taking the step, you acknowledge “okay now I need to jump.”

It was really interesting to reflect on this example for a little while. Whilst the the fear is similar in that you say “okay I’m going to jump from a height”, the decision that you make is different so you live it differently. We started to consider how it relates to our sessions, discussing how the clients might have some fears, and what might be going on for them and how they can deal with these fears.

As the dinner progressed so did the topic of conversation. We found ourselves talking about love. How we use the word, who we say “I love you” to. We talked about clients initially: the fears that may come up for our clients in the session, and how we feel about said clients. And something that was interesting at this point was that some people around the table recognised that sometimes when coaching they may feel as though they have more of a connection with one client than another, and began to discuss why that could be. For me, It was a really nice opportunity for self-reflection on how do I personally use the word? And what does it really mean to me?

The highlight of my evening came shortly after. Handed a piece of paper and a pen, Robin asked us two questions which marked the start of a very enjoyable exercise. “I want you to write the first thing that comes to mind for each one” he said. “Don’t worry you don’t have to share them” he added, prompting a few sighs of relief from around the room.
1: What is the one thing you would least want your supervisor to know?
2: And the reason you wouldn’t want your supervisor to know is because…”

Everyone wrote something down. Some put pen to paper straight away, others lingered over their response whilst they searched for an answer. Those of us that wanted to share were offered the opportunity to do so, and listening around the room it was interesting how different people came up with different answers, and yet it felt like it was a common topic, just framed in a different way.

If I’m honest I never thought about that first question before. Not once. I never even considered that there was something that I wouldn’t share with my supervisor, and yet here I was with an answer written on the paper before me. I stopped and thought for a moment. The question asked what is the thing that you would least want your supervisor to know, but it didn’t say never say it… I thought about how behind that thing you don’t want them to know there is a sense of fear. However once you work out the “why” you wouldn’t want them to know, you can explore it further and ask “then what?” You can break down the fear bit by bit, giving you the power to do something with that information.

When thinking about the second part of the exercise the first word that came to mind for me was vulnerability. So I went from acknowledging something that could come across as a fear, and the reason I wouldn’t wanna share it is because it makes me vulnerable. I loved the exercise because it empowered me, it gives you the power of choice to explore that fear. I was able to think ‘hold on a minute this is what I want to do.’ I have done similar exercises before so it wasn’t completely new to me, quite often I ask my clients “so what’s the fear behind what you’re sharing with me.” But it definitely gave me a refreshed outlook on fear and vulnerability, and a different perspective to work with my clients going forward.

My evening was a memorable one and I took a lot away from it. There are so many benefits to the Symposia events for members of the coaching community. There’s a great social element to the evening, an opportunity to meet new people and revel in engaging conversation. But for me, the nicest aspect of it, is having this group of coaches and noticing different styles, different approaches, yet all coming together as one group, united by good food and even better conversation.

As well as leaving with a great experience and new acquaintances, I came away with an answer to a question that I didn’t think I had. I find myself in an empowered position to do something about this fear, this thing that shouldn’t be said. Now I know that there is something that I can say that I wouldn’t like my supervisor to know, I can decide what to do with it, whether keep it to myself or take the jump and share it with my supervisor. Well, the latter is exactly what I plan to do… watch this space!

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